Ash Wednesday, 2021

Our little local church did a lovely, meditative service online this morning, but it didn’t land quite where my heart needs solace or challenge right now. I can’t quit thinking of Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese. I can’t stop hearing the phrases: “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.” I think some of us go to the “I’m not good enough” or “I need to change and be better” place much too easily all on our own. I know I do.

When the pastor invited us to write down our intentions for these next 40 days, what we’d like to give up or let go of for this time of self-reflection, I wrote down:

“I will take a morning walk or do yoga.”

And I started to write, “I will let go of my self-criticism and my smart ass remarks.”

But even that is rejecting some part of myself. Instead, I guess, I will sit with these pieces of me, these ways of reacting to life, and see if I can love them, too. See if I can honor the self-protection and the vulnerability that are beneath my defenses and fears. Mostly though, I think I will allow the sun to warm my face and arms, the wind to blow through me. I will be in the world of nature savoring its beauty, the natural cycle of death and rebirth, the dust of spirit brushing up against my feet. And I will breathe in its life-giving energy and let it heal my hurts each day and try to claim my place in the family of things.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

– Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Week 5: Isolation Journal (I carry you in my heart…)

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
– e. e. cummings

IMG_0449I had some intense sadness this week…hurt feelings for a moment put a “crack” into my shell that allowed sadness to well out and spill over. I tended to my hurting heart in gentle ways, but really only set it aside.

Most of the week I’ve been ricocheting off the floors, ceiling and walls in a sort of empty-headed routine (getting very little done, I might add). Best moments include Tuesday’s soul collage session with my friend by phone. I had trouble coming into focus long enough to pick images I resonated with – but eventually got momentum, scissors and glue were employed, and finished cards began to appear in front of me.

Each day this week has included a walk – usually 3-4 miles, one day near 5 miles. Today will be a lazy day to give my heel a short break. The weather is warming so we now go later and later in the day. Soon it will become early and earlier to catch the cool morning air. We are looking forward to the switch but we aren’t quite ready. We have seen deer, lizards, bunnies and quail galore, a few coyotes at home, and the occasional javelina.

I must confess that social distancing with humans while walking is an imperfect art. We are not crowded here by any means, but John and I take the distance rules seriously – and we walk in the bike lane or cross the road as needed. There are spots on the route where this becomes challenging maybe once or twice per walk. I must write this up to, “we’re all doing our best” or else I would complain about my neighbors’ awareness or lack thereof. It has, for the most part, done away with the friendly social component of the neighborhood walk except for a wave here and there. There’s a certain tension one senses even in those speeding by as runners or cruising past at high speeds on bikes.

Wednesday we had a grocery delivery and it was so exciting. I told John that I get a little flutter in my heart seeing fresh raspberries, strawberries, and red bell peppers. He said, “You need to get out more.” Then added, “We all do.” Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the bathing of groceries and gently tucking them each into their places in the pantry, cupboard or refrigerator.

IMG_0460I completely forgot to mention that Sunday was Easter and Monday was my birthday. Monday, I was showered with greetings and attention from beloved family and friends all day long. On Easter, I had spent the day doing church with friends from Colorado (via Zoom). We got to see the Easter happiness of the grandkids during video calls. Easter afternoon included a tasty meal and lots of Minecraft with two granddaughters, and an hour of chit chat with the youngest.

Anyway, on my b-day, my sister sent me a beautiful succulent plant via the florist. Who knew that florists were vital workers? Very cool. Homemade and virtual cards from the grandkids and a special Lord of the Rings birthday card from my daughters now adorn the house and my various “altars.” I hate to say that the highlight of the day from a material celebration standpoint was the delivery of some pizza (gluten and dairy-free for me), but it was like I was on a reality TV survival show and had just found a stash of the most delectable food. I wolfed it down at first, then paused to savor realizing that I might not see this again for some time. It was like a tangible connection to “normal” life for which I was starved.

IMG_0400Anyway, here we are on Friday – feels like two weeks later. In my meditation this morning, as I mentioned earlier, I touched on some real tenderness again, sadness, and heard the word “vulnerability.” Somewhere inside we are processing everything that is going on. Though there is a promise of states returning to more normalcy, we are not all feeling the comfort of this.

There have been moments of clarity this week in which I’ve had an awareness of another source of this vulnerability and pain. As a person whose almost entire female gene pool has in common traits of “control,” “resourcefulness” or (my husband might add) “stubborn individualism.” We don’t have great trust, overall, in other people to direct or protect us. We tend to want to chart our own path. We have reasons for these traits. The people in our lives who were supposed to be adept at protecting and directing did an often questionable (and in some cases downright lousy) job.

In addition to social isolation and upheaval in our lives – right now government leaders in charge of our well-being trigger us all day long. There is a degree of deceit and ineptitude that is overwhelming – especially for those of us who don’t trust others easily to begin with. Sane, grounded leaders shine out like beacons.

It brings me back to vulnerability. No amount of control, resourcefulness, or thinking ourselves out of predicaments is going to protect any one of us individually. Brene Brown writes that “vulnerability is the only bridge to build connection.” So, I’m not going to help you by pretending that I’ve got this all together. We’re not going to connect by demonstrating the big routines we’ve built into our new normal. Maybe we can build a bridge to one another by sharing the tenderness, the tears that overflow now and again when we least expect them. Maybe we can be each other’s Winnie the Pooh and Piglet (or Eeyore) and just hang out and let each other be where we are.

There’s a prayerful ritual that I have learned from Sharon McErlane and my friend, Constance, called, “casting the net of light.” When I have enough presence of mind, I do this in the morning or evening. Here’s how it’s done: Prayerfully and energetically – using our imaginations to assist – we envision the Net of Light which covers our earth, its people, creatures, plants, earth, air, water, everything, and connects us. We find our place on the Net, connect to it, and call in those other lights – friends, family, spiritual guides, angels and ancestors, our spiritual anchors, and we find connection. It was during this deep connection, today, that tears came. In the comforting connection of the Net there was enough security to allow vulnerable places to be held.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown reminds, “An experience of collective pain does not deliver us from grief or sadness; it is a ministry of presence. These moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time.”

So, friends, my beloveds, I reach out to you. I need your presence on the great Net of Light now. And I hold you – your heart – in my heart.

Love, Karen

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